Monthly Archives: May 2018

The Mystery of the Human Body

By Swami Nirmalananda

When you lie in yoga’s Shavasana, your whole body gets to deeply relax.  More than mere relaxation (as good as that is), each time you do Shavasana you are developing your ability to release multiple layers of tension from both your body and your mind.  Your body and mind both enjoy a profound sense of ease, with an inner spaciousness that you are meant to be living in all the time.

Unfortunately, when you get up and get moving again, you are still able to recreate the too-familiar tensions again.  You go back to life, and begin to tighten up.  We call this “relapse;” you are going back to how you felt before.  Instead of living in the inner spaciousness of your own Beingness, you end up living in relapse.

How can you carry the inner openness of yoga into daily life?  To answer this, you must understand the mystery of the human body.

There are many ways to work with your body in the yoga world, as well as in athletics and different forms of exercise.  Svaroopa® yoga works with your body in a very different way because we understand your body to be something different.  Instead of treating your body:

  • like a performance machine — that can be fine-tuned and improved,
  • like an artist’s canvas — that can be made more beautiful and more able to express the art and grace of the human form,
  • like a yardstick — that can be used to measure your beauty, your attractiveness to someone else, or your individual personal value or worth,
  • like a hunk of meat — that has to be dragged around with you and is always threatening to pull you down into the mundane world, or threatening to look bad or smell bad or create some problem for you…

Svaroopa® yoga sees your body as Divine, an individualized expression of the One in a physical form.  Consciousness alone has become everything that exists, including your body and mind.  The One Reality which has always existed, yoga calls Shiva.  Shiva decided to move, to dance, to play at being many — becoming you and I, and everything that exists.  That movement is called Shakti.  Shakti is moving Shiva, and is the energy that becomes the atoms.  Atoms manifest into everything that exists, including your own body.  Your body is a physical expression of the One.

This is the mystery of the human body.  You can delve into your body and open up what is contained within it, like you open up a Christmas present.  In Svaroopa® yoga, the body itself is your field of inquiry.  More than merely discovering muscles and bones, this inner inquiry opens to progressively deeper levels of the inner dimensions of your own being.

Your mind is made of the same Shakti that becomes the atoms, but your mind exists at a less dense level of contraction.  Your body and your mind are not two separate things that are in relationship with one another.  Your body and your mind are both outward expressions of only one thing — you.  They are two different levels of the blossoming of consciousness into a unique and individual manifestation — you.  Consciousness becomes you by shaping your mind into its tangible form on the subtle level, and then further condenses into the physical level as your body.  Your body is the outward expression of your mind.  Anything you do with one affects the other.

This means that you can think yourself into relapse.  Whether you do 20 minutes of yoga or devote a full weekend or week to it, you can tighten right back up with just a few minutes of worry.  Your body responds to every thought as though you were living through the experience.  If you think about walking down a dark alley at night, your body goes through the physical experience as though you were really there — your tailbone tightens, your breath shortens and the adrenaline pumps into your cells.  If you use your mind to run reruns of the worst experiences of your life, your body relives it every time you think it.  You can even have physical experiences of things that have never happened if you merely project that your future will be full of your worst fears.

While we work with your body, the purpose is to change the way your mind works.  The ancient teachings of yoga clearly state that the purpose is to work on your mind.  We work with your body because it is so easy to change your body.  Most of your aches and pains go away within four or five Svaroopa® yoga poses.  At the most, it takes a few classes and Embodyment® sessions.  The good news is that there is no reason for you to live in chronic pain and tension.  Feeling better is just a few minutes away.  And feeling better has an effect on your mind.

But if you don’t work with your mind directly, then you reinstate the prior problems with every thought.  The only way to stay out of relapse is to begin the process of quieting your mind.  Once you experience a quiet mind, you will always want to have a quiet mind.  This inner quietude frees you from the extraneous internal chatter and makes you more effective at everything you do.  At the same time, your quiet mind becomes an avenue that you can use to look more deeply inward — to find your Self, which is consciousness-itself.

First published June 2004


By Swami Nirmalananda

It feels so wonderful — lying on your back in that wonderfully padded, well-supported deep relaxation, with someone guiding you through the process of becoming aware of your body.  “Sha-vaa-sa-na,” even the word is such a beautiful sound.

Well described as yoga’s Relaxation Pose, Shavasana is a profound yoga practice that is especially important to those living our crazy modern lifestyle.  The frenetic pace and the pressures create a residue of exhaustion that you carry around with you, called shrama in Sanskrit.  When you first discover Shavasana, it provides you with a deeply restful relaxation.  If that were the only thing that Shavasana offered, it would reason to do it every day for the rest of your life!  Yet it offers much more.

For a new student, Shavasana is one of the hardest things we ask you to do.  You arrive at your first class and have to take off your shoes, which is strange enough.  Then your teacher has you lie down on the floor.  If there are others already lying down, it is a little easier.  But if you came a little early so you could get oriented, you may be the first one to lie down.  As your teacher props your knees up on the blanket rolls and adjusts you into the pose, you discover a whole new level of comfort and ease.  You probably don’t even notice that other people are walking around you while they get themselves set up in a similar way.

If you have done other styles of yoga, you have done Shavasana without any blanket rolls under your knees.  It is still a wonderful pose.  In Svaroopa® yoga, we use the props in order to provide support to the tight areas in your body.  With support, you always get a deeper release.  Shavasana provides a relaxation that seeps into your core.  The blanket rolls are not there to support your legs; we lift your knees in order to support your spine, specifically to lower the vertebrae at the back of your waist onto the floor.  You may also need a little cushion under your head in order to level your forehead and chin.  This does two things for you: (1) it takes pressure off your neck; and (2) it quiets your mind.  When your head is tipped, your mind continues to race.

You may think that Shavasana is chance for a nice nap, but what you are experiencing is not sleep.  Though in the beginning you may hear every word of the Guided Awareness, that soon changes.  As your teacher starts, beginning at your toes, there is a point where you stop hearing her/him.  Then, when the Guided Awareness ends, you begin moving when your teacher describes the next pose.  Where were you?  You didn’t hear all the words, and you thought you were asleep, but you were able to move when your teacher said to do so.

The whole purpose of Shavasana is to open the doorway to the inner dimensions of your own being.  Because of shrama, the collected fatigue, your experience of Shavasana is like a nap — in the beginning.  Still, it is not sleep.  As you develop your yoga practice, you become able to discern the difference between sleep and this deep inner rest.  In Shavasana, the restful state is less heavy than sleep.  Afterward you feel more profoundly refreshed than after a full night of sleep.  It is called yoga nidra, a yogic state of deep rest, and may even deepen into tandraloka, an immersion into the inner realm of Consciousness-Itself.

If your mind is active when you first lie down, the process of becoming progressively aware of each area of your body will calm and settle your mind.  This is an interweaving, like the threads on a loom, that brings your mind back into your body.  Too much of the time, your mind is fragmented into small bits, scattered all over the cosmos.  Weaving your mind back into your body is very good for your mind, and it is very good for your body.  Your body feels abandoned when your mind is elsewhere.  You have so many creative ways to be somewhere else.  You can be thinking about a place or a person.  Or you can be reviewing the past, often accompanied by regrets or recriminations.  Often, you are projecting into the future with desires or worries.  When your mind is elsewhere, you are actually gone; your body notices.  A body with no one in it is called a corpse.  In fact, Shavasana is a Sanskrit word meaning “Corpse Pose. ‘

There is a difference between your body and the corpse that it will one day be — there is someone living in it.  The Guided Awareness brings you back into your own body and your body comes alive again.  You may even feel the enlivening it as it happens, tingles of aliveness wherever your awareness is directed to, or maybe a growing warmth or a feeling of coolness.  Some areas of your body are hard for you to be aware of because they are tight and dense, like that proverbial corpse.  Shavasana alone may not be enough to re-enliven these areas.  All of the other asanas (poses) help unravel the deep tensions that limit your ability to be fully alive and fully embodied.  Shavasana is the mother of all the other asanas.  They all arise out of Shavasana and they all lead you back to Shavasana; they all prepare you to discover what Shavasana really offers.

Shavasana is the first pose you learn, yet it is the last one you master.  Every class begins with it, so it is your first yoga pose.  Every class begins and ends with Shavasana because it is such an important pose.  Stages of mastery unfold as you become more embodied and more able to be aware:

  1. Relaxation — even if your mind was still active at the beginning, at the end you feel more peaceful and your body is more relaxed.  This may be a new feeling!
  2. Sleep —“Are you sure that I wasn’t sleeping?”  If your head turns to the side, you may have actually gone to sleep, but otherwise it is yoga nidra or tandraloka.
  3. Meditation — though you get more out of meditation in a seated pose, sometimes Shavasana propels you past your mind into the vast inner recesses of your own Being.  How wonderful!
  4. Embodied Consciousness —  the interwoven reality, your body is a physical expression of the One Reality, which you discover within as your own divine Self.

Shavasana.  I come back to the word itself.  It is such a beautiful word — the sounds in it are so smooth and soft.  Its name conveys a promise — to experience it, all you have to do is more yoga.

Original published April 2004